Partner Reflection: Leigh Anne St. Charles

By Leigh Anne St. Charles, Nashville Managing Partner | July 2024

Like many, I went to law school with the goal of helping people, and graduated law school with little idea of how to achieve that goal in practice. And so, like many of my classmates, I started my legal career representing corporate interests at a large corporate defense firm. While my call to help others persisted, I saw no clear path toward that goal. That changed when I met Kevin Sharp in 2017 as he was opening the Nashville office of Sanford Heisler Sharp. Learning that there was a national law firm committed to public interest impact litigation was like a light flip being switched. Everything came quickly into focus. I accepted an offer to join on the spot and haven’t looked back since.

Since joining Sanford Heisler Sharp, I have had the privilege of representing incredible clients against some of the largest corporate interests in the country. I have also had the privilege of working daily with some of the brightest legal minds in the country. Standing up against powerful corporations and litigating against some of the largest and most highly regarded defense firms in the country is not for the faint of heart. To reflect on being a partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp is to reflect on the firm’s unique culture of collaboration, creativity, and collegiality. Each of my colleagues at SHS are brilliant and formidable legal advocates, driven by an innate sense of justice, fair play, and a deep compassion for others. By bringing together so many talented, committed individuals united in a common purpose, SHS has captured lightning in a bottle.

Over my six years at SHS, I have witnessed the firm’s continued expansion and evolution to meet the needs of employees and other victims of powerful entities abusing their position. When I speak with others about the work that I do, they are often surprised about the variety of cases that we handle. No one is immune from discrimination, retaliation, harassment, or other abuses of power. In my discrimination and harassment practice, I have represented a broad range of clients, from domestic and factory workers to partners at legal and accounting firms to c-suite executives at global corporations, to name just a few. For example, I had the honor of representing the co-founder of a global technology corporation who was forced out of the company he built, and securing a multi-million dollar verdict for him through arbitration. I also represented multiple female attorneys in litigation challenging policies and practices that were alleged to result in women being compensated less than their male counterparts.

In addition to my work challenging discrimination, I also litigate on behalf of classes comprised of thousands of workers who have lost millions of dollars of their retirement savings due to mismanagement—or at times egregious misconduct—by corporate fiduciaries responsible for overseeing a company’s 401(k) plan. For example, I currently represent a class of over 100,000 participants challenging the decision to invest over $9 billion of UnitedHealth Group employees’ retirement savings in one of the worst performing funds on the market. In this case, evidence indicates that employees’ savings were used as a bargaining chip to court and grow business with a key customer. The broad impact that our work has had more broadly in the 401(k) industry has been immensely gratifying. Those charged with managing the retirement plans of other workers know that they will be held accountable for their actions if they do not act with the care, skill, and diligence that the law requires. As a result, we have seen in real time more companies moving away from risky, poor-performing investments and taking greater care in offering prudent, unconflicted investments for their employees’ retirement nest eggs.

Finally, some of the most meaningful work that I do takes place outside of a courtroom. A large part of my practice is representing executives in negotiating confidential settlements allowing them to exit their current position with their dignity and career reputation intact. Many of my clients are women in positions of leadership who have poured themselves into their career, yet are passed over for promotion or are paid far less than junior male colleagues for decidedly gendered reasons. Female leaders are often chastised for being “intimidating” or “difficult” when they demonstrate the confidence and competence necessary for them to succeed in their position. I have also represented many clients who, because of their age or medical condition, are perceived as no longer capable of succeeding in their career despite their demonstrated record of success. Representing individual clients as they navigate some of the most difficult moments of their lives is incredibly rewarding. I have been very fortunate to work closely with so many amazing clients and help them to think both strategically and creatively about what a successful resolution means to them—often we are able to negotiate meaningful terms that would otherwise be unavailable in traditional litigation.

Whether in a private individual negotiation or a large class action litigation, I consider my job to be a voice on behalf of those that historically have been silenced. I’m so grateful to work at a law firm that has been doing this for twenty years, and I look forward to what we will achieve over the next twenty!

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